- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 25, 2002

He was a giant among outlandishly oversized men. A boss in a group of, well, Hogs. When Joe Jacoby joined the Washington Redskins in 1981, the 6-foot-7, 295-pound tackle immediately became one of the largest players in club history, a gargantuan presence with few professional peers.

Of course, that was then.

Here in the super-sized NFL now, the hulking Jacoby would hardly raise a chunky eyebrow. In fact, he'd barely tip a reinforced locker room scale: On opening day, an astonishing 315 of the league's players weighed 300 pounds or more.

That's nearly a fivefold jump in 300-plus pounders from just a decade ago, and almost enough to make Redskins defensive end Daryl Gardener no waif himself at 6-4, 295 pounds feel downright Lilliputian.

"Everybody is giving their boys a lot of cornbread or something, I don't know," Gardener said with a laugh. "Guys are just getting bigger and bigger."

Are they ever. As the nation's girth has expanded at a rate to shame Aretha Franklin by all accounts, we've become the fattest people in the history of the planet so too has the size of the typical NFL lineman.

Consider the numbers. As swollen as they happen to be.

In 1966, the Kansas City Chiefs entered Super Bowl I with an offensive line that averaged 261 pounds per man. Across the line of scrimmage, the Green Bay Packers countered with a defensive line averaging 249 pounds.

Today, by contrast, only four teams in the NFL Atlanta, Denver, St. Louis and Tampa Bay have offensive lines that average less than 300 pounds.

All of but one of Washington's 11 offensive linemen are listed at more than 300 pounds at 355, Rod Jones is the heaviest and the unit averages a stout 305.

On defense, 353-pound space eater Dan Wilkinson aptly nicknamed named "Big Daddy" anchors a 10-man group that averages 286 pounds and features six players that weigh more than 280.

And chew on this: While the Redskins' collective mass puts them well ahead of their Lombardi-era predecessors, it doesn't come close to making them the NFL's heaviest line.

The trophy for that honor a pewter-plated carton of french fries, we assume goes to the Dallas Cowboys, whose offensive line boasted a 332-pound opening day average and, until a cut last week, featured the league's biggest player, 410-pound man-mountain Aaron Gibson.

"There's definitely a difference in size from when I played to now," said Redskins assistant offensive line coach John Hunt, a former lineman who was drafted by Dallas in 1984 and played for two seasons in the NFL. "Seems like everybody now is 300 pounds. Back then, everybody was a 280-[pound] athletic guy that could run around."

Caution: Wider loads

Indeed, the NFL lines of the 1960s and 1970s were dominated by smaller, quicker athletes. Hall of Fame tackles Lou Creekmur (1950-59) and Ron Mix (1960-71) each weighed in at a spry 255 pounds.

Then there's Redskins center Len Hauss. A six-time Pro Bowler from 1967 to 1972, Hauss played in a team-record 196 consecutive games at a svelte 235 pounds. According to legend, he even had to force-feed himself during training camp at a Carlisle, Pa., restaurant to make weight.

Asked about his eating habits, Gardener smiled.

"I slaughter a lot of chickens," he said. "A couple pounds of biscuits. A couple of boxes of flapjacks. I gain weight real easy. Which is something I don't need."

The shift toward linemen who are far more comfortable in the All-U-Can-Eat buffet line began in 1978, when the league changed its blocking rules. Offensive linemen were allowed to extend their elbows beyond the span of their shoulders and use their hands to block, making mass and wingspan nearly as valuable as footwork and agility.

"That made it easier for [bigger] guys to function and do things," said Redskins defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis. "Guys can grab and hold on."

In Washington, former coach Joe Gibbs and offensive line boss Joe Bugel took advantage of the new emphasis on brawn, putting together an outsized unit known simply as the Hogs. Jacoby and Co. helped power the Redskins to three Super Bowl victories, grinding down opposing defensive linemen while demonstrating that big blockers could still protect the quarterback.

Washington's Super Bowl XXII rout of Denver saw the Hogs spring rookie halfback Timmy Smith for 204 rushing yards, a record that still stands. And over the course of the 1991 season, the Redskins' offensive line allowed a league-low nine sacks of immobile quarterback Mark Rypien, who piloted the team to a Super Bowl win over Buffalo.

"They were so big, and at that time they were just truckin' everybody," Hunt said. "They were wearing guys out. So there was a kind of change from the more athletic guy to the bigger guy, a guy with more push."

Changes in college football also have fueled the NFL's bigger-is-better philosophy. Over the last two decades, better nutrition, year-round training, sophisticated weightlifting programs and alas performance enhancing drugs have created a generation of extremely big men on campus, behemoths who dwarf their already large predecessors.

In the 1975 NFL Draft, Dallas scooped up two offensive linemen, Pat Donovan and Herb Scott, who went on to multiple Pro Bowl appearances. A third Cowboys selection, Burton Lawless, became a rookie starter on a Super Bowl club. Of the three, Lawless was the heaviest at 253 pounds.

In this spring's draft, on the other hand, the five offensive linemen picked in the first round averaged 329 pounds, led by 6-6, 375-pound Texas tackle Mike Williams, an SUV in shoulder pads.

On the opposite side of the ball, the seven first-round defensive line picks averaged 294 pounds. And 6-1, 266-pound pass-rushing specialist Dwight Freeney was considered believe it or not smallish.

Even the two tight ends taken in the first round, Jeremy Shockey and Jerramy Stevens, were bigger than Lawless. Shockey weighed 255 pounds and Stevens was 10 pounds heavier.

"In the past, maybe those guys would have been made offensive linemen," said Redskins strength and conditioning coach Chip Morton, who began his career at Ohio State in the mid-1980s. "Or a wide receiver now that's 6-foot-4 might have been made a tight end.

"Today, coaches identify a taller guy that can either be a lineman or a tight end, and because he has great feet and hands, they keep him trimmer and make him a tight end."

Though some of today's plus-size players seemingly warrant their own zip codes Chicago's 365-pound Ted Washington comes to mind most are anything but lumbering tubs of goo.

Shockey, who plays for the New York Giants and runs the 40-yard dash in 4.64 seconds, beat St. Louis linebacker Tommy Polley (4.52 in the 40) on a sideline go route for a 28-yard touchdown in a Week 2 Giants victory.

Former Baltimore defensive tackle Tony Siragusa was widely ridiculed for his rotund, 340-pound physique. But in high school he punted, kicked and was the New Jersey state wrestling champion with a 97-1 record.

"Goose is a tremendous athlete," said Lewis, who coached Siragusa in Baltimore. "If you were going to play basketball, three-on-three, he'd be your first pick. He's agile on his feet. You almost forget about how big and powerful he is."

Bigger bodies, bigger risks?

As outsized specimens such as Shockey and Siragusa become the NFL norm, some medical experts worry about the potentially harmful effects of the league's pound-by-pound expansion.

In the short term, greater mass and speed mean more violent collisions and an increased risk of serious injury; over time, excess bulk can lead to a number of health problems, including hypertension and heart disease.

Eight years ago, a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health study found that linemen who played in the NFL from 1959 to 1988 had a 52 percent greater risk of dying from heart disease than the general population.

According to Pierce Scranton Jr., a former team doctor for the Seattle Seahawks, mass-enhancing diets like former pro Tony Mandarich's 15,000-calorie-a-day plan aren't exactly good for the body, either.

"A guy's going to have problems from that," said Scranton, who spent 17 years with the Seahawks and is the author of "Playing Hurt: Treating and Evaluating the Warriors of the NFL." "The insulin-producing cells in the pancreas just become exhausted. There's no strength training for a pancreas. It is what it is, and you overwhelm it. Now, you're a diabetic."

Oversized linemen also face the prospect of chronic arthritis. In walking a mile, for instance, a 350-pound lineman will put roughly 417,000 more pounds of pressure on his hip joint than a player that weighs a hundred pounds less.

As a result, the heavier player will wear out the cartilage in his hip much more quickly than his lighter counterpart.

"We are creating a generation of super football players who will be crippled for the remainder of their life with arthritis," Scranton said. "Their joints are not built to withstand the extra strain. In that individual's 40s or early 50s, all of the sudden, they have severe back problems, spinal problems, arthritic spurs, knees, ankles, elbows that are worn out."

As such, Morton said that the same league that has put a premium on size has a responsibility to help players slim down once their careers are over. Gardener agrees.

"Considering that I live in Miami and I'm trying to stay sexy, I'll probably drop down about 20 pounds [after football]," he said with a laugh. "Then I'll put on my tank top, run around in my convertible and do my thang."

For his part, Redskins offensive line coach Kim Helton maintains that bigger isn't always better. Mandarich, a No.2 overall pick in 1989, was touted as the "Incredible Bulk" on the cover of Sports Illustrated; flat-footed and unremarkable, he ended up as perhaps the greatest NFL Draft bust not named Ryan Leaf.

Meanwhile, teams such as San Francisco, St. Louis and Denver have used smaller, quicker lines to good effect. Last season, the Rams sported the fifth-best rushing offense in the NFL behind the league's second-lightest offensive line (296 pounds per man).

"There's a thin line between a guy that weighs 300 and 350," Helton said. "That other 50 pounds can be a help or a hindrance. Sometimes, the more agile athlete with good body strength is more productive."

That said, Gardener doubts that NFL linemen will begin downsizing anytime soon. And while Lewis is skeptical that 400-pounders like former Cowboy Gibson will one day become standard, he wouldn't bet against it.

"As long as it's a big man, with good weight, why can't there be a 6-foot-8, 400-pound guy?" Lewis said. "As long as guys keep growing, it's going to continue."


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